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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The resurrection of Swedish House Mafia: ‘We are like three Doberman dogs’


It’s June 2012. Swedish House Mafia have just played an exhilarating set at Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend, when a new message flashes up on their website.

“Today, we’d like to share with you that the tour we’re about to embark on will be our final,” it says. “We came, we raved, we fell in love.”

The dance world is in disbelief. Swedish House Mafia are wildly successful and at the pinnacle of their profession. They’ve rewritten the rule book for dance music in four years, selling out New York’s Madison Square Garden in 11 minutes and booking massive stadium shows across Europe.

They are masters of the ecstasy rush, with pulse-quickening hits like Save The World and Don’t You Worry Child conquering clubs and charts alike. They are a supergroup comprised of Swedish DJs Sebastian Ingrosso, Steve Angello, and Axel “Axwell” Hedfors.

No one could believe they were calling it a day. Including, it appears, the band itself.

“We just decided on the spot that it was the right time to release that statement,” Axwell says nine years later. “We didn’t even know we were going to do it during the show.”

“You can’t pick a good time to deliver bad news,” Ingrosso says. “We’d had some shaky talks about it, but [after that show] we decided, ‘OK. Let’s call it a day.”

At the time, the band chose to portray the split as going out on a high.

“It’s very easy to just stay content with the machine that is Swedish House Mafia,” Axwell told Radio 1’s Pete Tong. “But we’ve always been about challenging ourselves and doing unexpected things… and we didn’t want to end up repeating ourselves.”

However, a documentary about their 52-date farewell tour painted a picture of disillusionment and internal strife. “We’re not best friends anymore, and that’s the truth,” Ingrosso said to the camera at one point.

“That was the truth,” he maintains to this day. “We were exhausted and exhausted. As a result, there was bound to be tension and irritation.” I mean, if you move in with your best friend, you will experience conflict with him as well. That’s the way it works.

“We look back now, a little older and wiser, and realise we needed a break. We needed to be apart for a while. We needed to miss making music with each other once more.”

Surprise reunion

The band reconnected over dinner in Stockholm in 2017, the first sign of a thaw.

“A friend of ours said, ‘Come on guys, you need to get together,’ and we were like, ‘Alright, let’s have a dinner, let’s just talk,'” Angello recalls.

Aware that a public appearance would spark a tabloid feeding frenzy in Sweden, the trio met up in a private hotel suite with their then-manager Amy Thomson, where they stayed up until four a.m. catching up and reminiscing after a meal of “meat, salads, and red wine.”

“Every memory we shared was a disaster!” laughs Ingrosso. “You know, when someone makes a mistake, misses a flight, or oversleeps. Those were the only memories we had.”

By the time they left, the band had agreed to perform a one-time performance at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival in 2018. Thomson later recalled on her Instagram page that she “was on stage at 6am in a leather jacket, testing lasers didn’t burn the back off them.”

The band’s spectacular live shows set new standards for dance music

The set was supposed to be a closely guarded secret. To avoid being seen together, the three members even stayed in separate hotels. However, rumours began to circulate after Angello cancelled an Asian tour and flew to Miami.

Tens of thousands of fans had gathered in front of the stage by the time Miami 2 Ibiza’s first bass hit exploded through the stadium. It was chaos when a massive mirrored disc flipped around to reveal the band.

“I’ve never seen a whole festival empty and only come to one stage,” Ingrosso says. “It was the most bizarre thing I’d ever seen.”

Despite technical difficulties, the hour-long set was a huge emotional catharsis for the band.

“We were both in tears. Everyone was crying “According to Ingrosso.

“We ran into a lot of people backstage who were also crying,” Angello adds. “Artists we’d known for 10, 15, 20 years. It was so intense that you could cut the energy with a scissor. It was the most intense feeling I’d ever had.”

The trio quickly realised there was no turning back.

“The first second the Kabuki [curtain] dropped and we were on stage, I thought, ‘We’re going to do this again,'” Angello says.

The band have worked with The Weeknd (second from left) on their new album, Paradise Again

What to do next was the question. The “big room” dance sound they’d pioneered had waned in popularity in the years they’d been gone, and the band were opposed to capitalising on past successes.

It took them four years and several false starts to figure out what to do next. It entailed signing, then cancelling, a reported $5 million contract with Columbia Records, as well as parting ways with their long-term manager, Thomson.

They were in the studio the entire time, dreaming up grand plans for their debut album.

“We all had separate careers back then, and we squeezed in Swedish House Mafia whenever we could. If we felt we needed a new song for a performance, we wrote it in a spare week in Dublin, London, or New York “Angello explains.

“But this time, we wanted to concentrate on an album and say, ‘OK, this is it.'”

Covid crisis

During their peak, the band released only six singles and two compilation albums, resulting in a notoriously slow work rate. Sessions for their return were similarly sluggish.

While tinkering with vintage synths and delving into each other’s record collection, they created mood boards full of “weird, artsy stuff” such as photos, clothes, and inspirational phrases (“If you want different results, try something different”).

Several songs were demoed, auditioned while on tour, and then discarded.

“It’s critical that all three of us enjoy the song, which may explain why it takes a little longer. Who can say?” Axwell ponders.

“And that’s also the magic of it, right?” Ingrosso objects. “We’re not like a traditional pop band, where writers and other people work together to create a sound.”

In fact, they refused to make “another 12 versions of Don’t You Worry Child” on the advice of record labels.

“We are extremely difficult to work with,” admits Ingrosso. “They may be experts, but we’re like three Doberman pinschers barking back. So, in general, it’s best if we make some music and present it to them.”

In March 2020, Ingrosso contracted coronavirus, rendering him incapacitated for three months. But, in early 2021, the band made a breakthrough with a song called It Gets Better, whose claustrophobic urgency finally captured the sound they’d been pursuing.

“I feel like we found the path when we found that,” Angello says.

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The track became the first taster of Swedish House Mafia’s debut album, Paradise Again, in July.

Subsequent singles have seen the band exploring new territory – from the laid-back summer anthem Lifetime to the slow-burning pop of Moth To A Flame.

The latter is a collaboration with pop superstar The Weeknd, with whom Swedish House Mafia now share a manager. But getting him involved wasn’t as straightforward as you’d expect, says Ingrosso.

“When we were brainstorming who we wanted to collaborate with, the first name that came to mind was Abel, aka The Weeknd. “We adore his dark side, his voice, his attitude, everything.” ” When we told our management, we assumed it would be a simple matter: ‘Yeah, just bring The Weeknd into the studio tomorrow, right?’ ‘It doesn’t work like that,’ they said. You two need to sit down and talk.'” He wanted to see our vision, our ideas, and listen to the entire album. So we flew to LA and spent two days just hanging out, drinking, and having fun – before heading into the studio.

“It was genuine, you know, and that’s always the best way, you know?”

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The debut album’s details, including its release date, are still unknown, but it sees the trio emerge from a state of suspended animation, just as their biggest heroes called it quits.

Daft Punk announced their retirement in a cryptic YouTube video last winter, as the band was finishing up the record.

“We grabbed our phones right away because we work with a lot of the same people as them and wanted to figure it out,” Ingrosso says. “But, at the same time, we’ve been there, and we know… that they’re just people like us.”

“It was strange,” Axwell adds. “It’s strange to have been silent for so long, only to return and say, ‘We’re out.’ We still have unanswered questions. More questions than you, most likely.”

Ingrosso goes on: “They did, however, provide us with an incredible two decades of music. They inspired me to get into electronic music, and they will continue to do so.

“That is the allure of music: it never dies. So, whether they’re active or not, I can always listen to Homework or Discovery. I can always listen to their music because it is always available.”

The trio have planned a 44-date world tour for 2022

Even as Daft Punk depleted their batteries, another Swedish pop export, alongside the House Mafia, was resurrected.

“We’re huge Abba fans!” Angello exclaims. “We grew up listening to Abba. They were extremely influential in our musical development.”

“To be honest, I think they were trying to beat us,” Axwell deadpans. “That was a race that was taking place in Sweden. For example, who can return first?”

“The cool thing is that they’re coming back in a really innovative and cutting-edge way,” Angello says, referring to the band’s virtual 3D concerts in London next year.

“I know a lot of people who are going to see Abba live, and it’s almost like seeing the Eiffel Tower. You simply must witness this spectacle for yourself.”

Given that touring tore Swedish House Mafia apart ten years ago, could they see themselves performing as Abba-style avatars?

“I guess that’s attractive when you’re their age – but the crowd reaction is in our DNA,” says Ingrosso.

“We started when we were 15 or 16 years old, and it’s all we’ve ever done. So it’s similar to your backbone. I can’t wait to take the stage.”

“Yeah, in the future, maybe I’ll be able to stay at home and not do anything,” Angello adds. “However, I’m actually running low on energy right now.”

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